For the last two decades, James (Reds) Hailer has fought the flames for the Arlington County fire department, and not once hts he changed the copper-cplored contours of his hair as it swirls and dips, waves, crests, and dips again in that final triumph of art over nature known as The Pompadour.

What time and the fighting of blazing infernos have not been able to accomplish may yet be achieved by General Order No. 77-04 of the Arlington County Fire Department.

The new order requires all county firemen to keep their hair - even when disheveled - above their ears and shirt collar under pain of suspension from the force.

Like many of his colleagues, Hailer faces the prespect of compliance with the edict with the same eathusiasm most other people reserve for entering a burning building.

As the deadline for compliance with the order nears, the Arlington Professional Firefighters' Association has hired a lawyer, urged its members to file grievances with their superiors, and plans to ask the County Board to be heard at its April 23 meeting. A few, like Frank Holzman, a 10-year veteran of the force, are willing to risk suspension rather than face the barber.

"It's a matter of principle," Holzman said as he sat around Fire Station No. 10 on arecent Saturday. "No one objects to a reasonable standardfor hairlength, butat the ratetheyre going, the next you know they'll be asking us to go bald."

Until the new order came down last month, both sides of the controversy tgree, there was an unwritten agreement between the irefighters and their superiors that they could wear their hair in any style as long as it was covered by the liners of their helmets, which extend slightly below their ears.

According to Assist. Fire Chief Harvey E. Wood, the new regulations were put into effect because the firefighters did not wear liners over their ears while fighting blazes and risked injury if their hair ever caught on fire.

"All we're trying to do is protect the men from themselves," Wood said.

"Baloney," said Mark Penn, vice president of the association. "The men always pull their liners down when fighting a fire. Nobody's deliberately trying to get themselves hurt."

Stands on principle and the safety debate are not the firefighters' only concern, however. "Girls when aren't going to talk to a guy who looks like he just got out of the Marine Corps," says Buddy Turner, who recently cut his hair because, he said, he can't afford to get laid off. "With today's clothes you look like an ass with hair this short."

The new directive affects not only the over 200 men on the force but Judy Livers, the only female member, as well. So far, Livers said, her mother, a beautician, has cut her auburn hair three times in the last week and a half in an attempt to conform to the new order.

"Some of the guys are calling me "Butch," she said. It upsets my husband quite a bit. He wants me to look like a woman.I don't see where it does the department any good to have women running around looking like the other sex - or like there's something wrong with them."

The firefighters also cite the wide variations in prescribed hair lengths among area fire departments. In Alexandrit, for instance, firefighters may wear their hair two inches below the helmet liner, while in Fairfax, the bottom of the ear lobe in the maximum length.

"Don't get us wrong," said Harry Brady as half the men scrambled on to fire trucks when the alarm sounded. "We love our jobs. We just don't understand why public stfety employees should be treated as second class citizens.